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Mobile home community members pulled together to save resident, stay safe from Ian

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Eileen Kelley
/
WGCU
Robert Heather looks at the window he struggled to break as water pushed by Hurricane Ian pushed into his building on San Carlos Island.

The tight-knit mobile home community of Sunnyland on San Carlos Island was made even closer now by Hurricane Ian.

The 30 or so mobile homes and campers were heavily damaged or destroyed after filling with water. The monstrous storm’s wind also left its mark.

One rig, a pull-behind, was seen flying through the air, landing in a tree in the neighboring parking lot of the bar Hurricane Tinas, residents said.

“I was an hour or two from dying.”
Robert Heather, resident at Sunnyland on San Carlos Island

The residents here said they felt caught off guard by the storm’s strength and tidal surge — anticipating only an inch or two of water would make its way into their homes, not a complete inundation.

And that’s how the community’s two-story, multi-purpose building of laundry machines and washrooms became a life-safer last Wednesday.

“I was an hour or two from dying,” said Robert Heather.

Heather’s roughly 300-square-foot home of the last five years was in one of the handful of apartments within the multi-purpose building. Carlos Hernandez lives beside him. Above the two of them is Erika Dohle.

As the water rose, many like Hernandez raced up the stairs to Dohle’s house.

“I lost track after 20,” Dohle’s said of the people who took shelter in her second-story apartment.

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Eileen Kelley
/
WGCU
Salahuddin Khan, left, and George Krawshuk rush to embrace at Sunnyland Mobile Home Park on San Carlos Island after Hurricane Ian wracked the area Sept. 28. The two men had not seen each other since before Ian hit.

Hernandez and the others taking shelter in Dohle’s apartment assumed Heather was in a hotel at the beach where he had a part-time job. But he wasn’t. Instead, he was below, stuck inside his apartment, the door swollen shut.

First Heather’s feet got wet. Then the water was up to his knees. Then it got higher and higher.

Heather grabbed a draw tap from a keg-o-rater and began hacking at the window trying to break it open. And then the brutal reality hit him: He was trying to break a hurricane window.

“I’m totally screwed,” Heather said he thought to himself.

So, then he started banging on the ceiling. People above heard him.

Hernandez raced down and saw his trapped neighbor. He grabbed a hammer and after five minutes of banging on the window in pounding wind and rain, the glass finally broke.

Heather said he grabbed a pillow that was floating by and placed it over the shattered glass. He then reached his arms through and Hernandez pulled him out. Together they ran up the stairs to Dohle’s apartment where there were at least 23 Sunnyland residents and their pets.

The water continued to rise stopping just a few inches from the ceiling in Heather’s apartment.

“That man there saved my life,” Heather said of Hernandez.

Lynn Hatter is news director for WFSU. WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.